Tuesday, October 13, 2020

St Edward the Confessor and the Wilton Diptych

The Beautiful Painting of the Holy King Who Refused to Raise Taxes

Today is the commemoration of St Edward the Confessor, the last Saxon king of England, who died in 1066. His reign of about 25 years was a period of peace and stability; he was known for his piety, and loved as a ruler who devoted himself to his people.

He took a vow of chastity and when he did yield to requests from his nobles that he marry, would only take a consort and on the condition that she would accept the sisterly role proposed for her. I have a fondness for this Saint, whose reign is characterized, it seems to me, by relatively little drama or action. He was a good and holy ruler who resisted the temptation of interfering with the lives of his subjects, and preserved their security and freedom. No wonder he was beloved.
As the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:
Edward’s one aim was the welfare of his people. He remitted the odious ‘Danegelt’ [a tax], which had needlessly continued to be levied; and though profuse in alms to the poor and for religious purposes, he made his own royal patrimony suffice without imposing taxes.
I wonder how many rulers there are today of whom the same can be said? I would like to promote the idea of leaders who have the nerve to do nothing other than remove laws and regulations that interfere with the freedom of their citizens or subjects. It would be a novelty in today’s world!
Artistically, St Edward is portrayed in one of the treasures on display in the National Gallery in London, the Wilton Diptych. This was painted 350 years or so after his death, in the International Gothic style. It is exquisitely beautiful, one of the paintings that inspired me to want to paint sacred art myself. The artist, we are told, is likely English or French, and it is dated around 1395. 
There are two panels are small, each sized approximately 21 x 14.5 inches, a portable altarpiece commissioned by Richard II, who is shown being presented to the Virgin by his patron saint, John the Baptist, and past holy kings: St Edward (in white in the middle) and St Edmund, an 8th-century king of East Anglia. The reverse, which would be the outside when the diptych was closed, shows Richard’s coat of arms and his personal emblem of a white hart chained with a crown.
Below we see first, the left panel, then the right showing the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the reverse of each of these. 
And here is it as displayed in the National Gallery

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